The fervent cry of "Gold in California!" galvanized a nation and changed forever the way Americans would view the far western frontier. The 1848 gold strike at Sutter's Mill sent a ripple of excitement around the world. The following year, nearly 50,000 emigrants crossed the vast wilderness that stretched between the California goldfields and the Missouri River settlements. Of these, about 10,000 chose the so-called southern routes which terminated at San Diego or Los Angeles. The most important of the southern routes was the Gila Trail. It was an old and venerable trail first used by the Indians who inhabited the desert wastes of southern Arizona and California. The Spaniards adopted the trail during the 18th century. They used it to travel overland from Sonora, Mexico to the mission at San Diego, California. The Mexicans inherited the trail during the early 19th century, followed by the Americans in the middle of the century.
There was another untested southern route available to the 49'ers. It stretched from Salt Lake City southwestward across the Basin and Range Province of Nevada to the Amargosa Desert. From there, the trail continued southwestward, skirting the southern end of the Sierra Nevadas. It eventually terminated at Los Angeles. Unfortunately, no one was aware of the hellish country that lay between the Amargosa Desert and the Coast Ranges of California. About a hundred 49'ers would experience this hell on Earth; their survivors would give it a name: "Death Valley".
The 49'ers who crossed the Death Valley inferno were divided into several companies including the Manly-Bennett party, the Jayhawker party from Illinois, a company of southerners from Georgia and Mississippi, the Towne party, and the Wade party. The Manly-Bennett party entered Death Valley via Furnace Creek and then traveled southward to Bennett's Well. From there the party journeyed southwestward, crossing the Panamint Range at its southern end. The Manly-Bennett party left its mark on the southern Panamints. Manly Peak and nearby Manly Fall were both named for the leader of the party.
Manly Peak is apparently the home of at least two lost mines. The Lost John Galler Mine is said to be located somewhere along the southern foot of the peak, near Goler Wash. The other lost mine is said to be located on the northwestern slope of the peak, overlooking Redlands Canyon.
In 1925, Asa Russell and Ernie Huhn were prospecting the southern end of the Panamints, near the upper Butte Valley. Russell and Huhn worked their way westward onto the slopes of Manly Peak. Somewhere on the northwestern slope of the peak, Huhn stumbled onto a 3-foot thick vein of extraordinary "cement-gray" ore. He collected samples of the curious ore and found them to be loaded with gold! Unfortunately, when Huhn returned to Manly Peak he was unable to find the gold-bearing ledge. He never did.
The history of mining in the Panamint Range of southern California begins with one of the most famous lost mines of the Old West. Discovered by a 49'er somewhere in the Death Valley desert, the fabulous hill of pure silver known as the Lost Gunsight Mine lured many a prospector into the wastelands during the 1850's and 60's. William (or Charles) Alvord was just such a prospector. Alvord certainly left his mark on southern California. The Alvord Mountains in San Bernardino County were named for him, as was a famous mine. While searching for the Lost Gunsight Mine in 1860, Alvord found and then lost a fantastic gold mine somewhere in the southern Death Valley country. (Some accounts place the mine in the Alvord Mountains.) Alvord made another discovery that year in the Panamint Mountains. It wasn't a hill of silver, but it was silver nonetheless. While prospecting the Panamints, Alvord stumbled on several veins of the white metal. These were the first recorded discoveries of ore in the mineral-rich Panamints. Thirteen years later, rich silver
deposits were again located in the Panamints. The silver mines spawned a hell-raising mining camp known as Panamint City. Unfortunately, the veins petered out and the mines closed down after only 4 years of operation.
In 1897, the focus shifted from silver to gold. Rich gold deposits were discovered on the western flanks of the Panamints, about 7 miles south of Panamint City. The town that sprang up at the foot of the mountains was named after the famous Australian gold camp known as Ballarat.
Nine years later, the biggest strike of all occurred near the old pioneer trail in Emigrant Canyon. A mining camp quickly sprouted up as prospectors and miners poured into the area. The camp was named Skidoo after the popular aphorism "23-Skidoo". The "Skidoovian" mines poured out a stream of gold and silver until about 1917, when operations finally ceased.